Olympic Sculpture Park - Seattle, Washington
When the Seattle Art Museum, the Museum Development Authority, and the Trust for Public Land began examining sites for their planned sculpture park, the former Union Oil of California industrial site along Seattle's central waterfront offered a unique opportunity to preserve and rehabilitate one of Seattle's last undeveloped waterfront properties. With the inclusion of acquired property along Broad Street and land leased from the City of Seattle, the 8.5 acre site was transformed into a setting for outdoor art and public recreation and restored to a functioning ecosystem. To support this ecosystem, shoreline stabilization consists of natural substrate beach secured by rip-rap sills and a seawall segment with a submerged rock revetment.
Habitat and Environment
Shoreline habitat restoration and terrestrial improvements were major project goals. The new beach provides upland riparian and intertidal habitats, while a shallow subtidal habitat bench along the beach and seawall offers refuge and foraging habitat for migrating juvenile salmon. Early results from a five-year beach restoration monitoring program indicate rapid development of aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna.
Extensive native planting and the reintroduction of the site's historic topography created native microclimates and archetypal landscapes, known as the Shore, the Grove, the Meadow, and the Valley. The Shore features plants commonly found in Pacific Northwest coastal zones that tolerate constant wind and salt-spray. These plants, which include shore pine, beach grass, and beach strawberry, support salmon habitat and tidal gardens.
Upland of the Shore is the Grove, where native quaking aspen with a wood rose and Oregon iris understory express dramatic seasonal changes. In the Meadow, native grasses and wildflowers form a regenerative landscape complementing the sculptures within. Garry oak, western columbine, and camas grass inhabit this ecosystem. The Valley illustrates the moist evergreen forests of the Puget Sound region. Douglas fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock are joined by gingko and dawn redwood, known as "living fossils." Flowering perennials, ferns, and shrubs typical of this ecosystem define pathways and outdoor rooms.
The designer's vision was to "transport art outside the museum walls" and create a unique urban space where patrons could view sculpture, the city, and Puget Sound all at once. To link divided land parcels, a Z-shaped path begins at the expanded Elliott Bay Trail along the Shore, climbs over Alaskan Way and Elliott Avenue, and ends in the Valley with an amphitheater and pavilion. Twenty-one sculptures line the path, within several zones of native plantings. The park also includes a museum shop, cafés, classrooms, indoor exhibition space, a parking structure, and office space. The park is popular with both locals and tourists and is a frequent setting for wedding photos.
Design and Construction
The site's industrial history necessitated significant remediation both before and after purchase. A three-foot thick layer of engineered soil was used to reduce runoff quantity, and dense planting of native trees, shrubs, and ground cover in permeable rain gardens further reduces stormwater runoff from the site. At the shoreline, rip-rap rock was relocated to create shallow subtidal habitat and a pocket beach. Shoreline improvements also stabilized the site's existing seawall, which was damaged in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake. Maintenance contributes to a healthy ecosystem through the use of green cleaning products, composting, and pesticide-free gardening to reduce pollutants in the groundwater and Elliott Bay.
ResourcesCentral Waterfront Partnerships Committee briefing book.
Olympic Sculpture Park website, Seattle Art Museum.
The Seattle Times.